The Cravath partner who uses Scotch tape to Biore herself during a deposition. The Sullivan & Cromwell partner who allegedly tells a gay associate to “bend over” and pick up a document. The partner that you’re probably working for right now, who makes one insane demand after another.
What is UP with these people? How can they be so clueless? Why are they completely unable to appreciate how their words and actions will be received?
One theory about why powerful partners act the way they do can be gleaned from this NYT op-ed, by Richard Conniff, author of The Natural History of the Rich. Conniff suggests, in a nutshell, that power turns people into inconsiderate a**holes. Here’s an excerpt:
Researchers led by the psychologist Dacher Keltner took groups of three ordinary volunteers and randomly put one of them in charge. Each trio had a half-hour to work through a boring social survey. Then a researcher came in and left a plateful of precisely five cookies. Care to guess which volunteer typically grabbed an extra cookie? The volunteer who had randomly been assigned the power role was also more likely to eat it with his mouth open, spew crumbs on partners and get cookie detritus on his face and on the table….
The researchers went on to theorize that getting power causes people to focus so keenly on the potential rewards, like money, sex, public acclaim or an extra chocolate-chip cookie — not necessarily in that order, or frankly, any order at all, but preferably all at once — that they become oblivious to the people around them.
Are you one of those associates who does whatever a partner asks of you, quickly and without complaint, no matter how unreasonable? You may be part of the problem:
[T]he people around them may abet this process, since they are often subordinates intent on keeping the boss happy. So for the boss, it starts to look like a world in which the traffic lights are always green (and damn the pedestrians). Professor Keltner and his fellow researchers describe it as an instance of “approach/inhibition theory” in action: As power increases, it fires up the behavioral approach system and shuts down behavioral inhibition.
So next time a certain partner asks you to coordinate an armada of town cars to ferry deal documents to her at home, “Just Say No.” You’re standing up not just for yourself, but for generations of unborn associates.
(Okay, this advice would probably get you fired. But wouldn’t it be satisfying to tell her off? It might almost be worth losing your job to say to her, “I graduated from a top law school. I got offers from every top firm I applied to. Do I look like a Dial-A-Car dispatcher?”)
The Rich Are More Oblivious Than You and Me [New York Times]